Stripping soaked sheets off a child’s bed for the third night in a row. Scrubbing vomit out of a carseat. Listening to a bedroom door slam with an angry “I hate you!”
“This is not what I signed up for.”
In the years since I became a mother, the tempting, selfish thought has sneaked into my mind a thousand times, dark and brooding.
But every time a quiet voice responds gently: “Are you sure?”
Before we had children, the prospect of parenthood played in my mind like a movie montage: the joy of holding our baby, watching a toddler take first steps, spinning around with a laughing child, playing soccer together at the park, tearing up at graduation.
I daydreamed about the highlight reel. I did not imagine any ugly moments on the cutting room floor.
I smile now at my naivete. What parent wouldn’t? We grow into this calling as it polishes our rough edges smooth over time. Our tolerance for noise, mess and chaos increases as our younger impatience fades.
But after late nights or weeks of sickness or one more exasperating argument, I still hear the temptation creeping into my mind: “This is not what I signed up for.” The sin of pride, taunting me to believe myself better than the work before me.
Back when I was a bright-eyed college graduate, I signed up for a year of service in France with the Sisters of the Assumption. What better way to put my newly minted French degree to good use?
I found myself working in a L’Arche home for adults with severe physical and developmental disabilities. Every morning I stripped soaked sheets, washed them and remade the beds. Every day I helped residents go to the bathroom, get dressed and eat lunch.
I remember ironing the same stack of clothes for the 12th time that week and muttering to myself: “This is not what I signed up for.”
No one cared if I could analyze a French novel brilliantly. No one gave a glowing grade to my work. No one knew if I’d gone to a great university or had some all-star resume.
What I had signed up to do was to serve. With love. Which meant setting aside my own ego and expectations and humbling myself to the place God had called me, where the people I came to serve were the ones who taught me everything.
Turns out that year at L’Arche was the best preparation for parenthood.
Today none of my children care that I have a graduate degree. None of them have ever asked to see my resume. What matters to them is that I show up each day and love them. This is exactly what I signed up for when I became their mom.
Whenever I’m tempted to think otherwise, I hear the quiet, gentle voice I have come to recognize as God’s. That peaceful voice reminds me that the work of love is my vocation.
Sometimes it means washing stomach-churning laundry. Or comforting a crying newborn for hours. Or working through the daily conflicts of a house full of humans.
It’s not always what I pictured, glamorous or enviable. But callings don’t come with promises of bliss and self-fulfillment.
God asks us to give our lives to each other in sacrifice and love. Whether we are parents or priests, single or married, professionals or caregivers, we all grow into the hard work that comes with vocation. This is where God calls us.
This is exactly what we signed up for.
Fanucci is a mother, writer and director of a project on vocation at the Collegeville Institute in Collegeville, MN. She is the author of several books, including “Everyday Sacrament: The Messy Grace of Parenting,” and blogs at www.motheringspirit.com.
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